Kentucky artist makes realistic songbirds and wildflowers from wood

Spirit of the Bluegrass

LAUREL COUNTY, KENTUCKY (WDKY)– Jim Sams spends several hours each day in his art studio, but he doesn’t feel cooped up. He is surrounded by images of nature– delicate flowers and colorful songbirds, inspired by his lifelong love of the great outdoors.

“I spent a lot of time in the woods,” he said. “I wasn’t a hunter, but I soaked it all in. I remember my dad taking me on a trail and showing me wildflowers and that stuck with me. I still enjoy seeing them in the spring.”

In the mid 1970s, this self-taught artist started working with wood, first making duck decoys. But  he wanted to do something more challenging,  turning to the things he’d see on his hikes.

Now, his creations are a multi-step process. He starts by cutting out shapes on a bandsaw. He then carves features by hand and uses a wood burner for the fine details. The painting takes the longest, but it’s what brings the wooden creations to life.

Sams purposely adds imperfections to leaves and petals, just as you would see them in nature.  When he displays his work at art shows, people often think he makes vases, not realizing the flowers aren’t real.

“They don’t believe they’re wood. They offer to smell them and touch them,” he said. That’s the ultimate compliment.

40 years ago, Sams quit his job as a bookkeeper to become a full-time wood artist, a decision he’s never regretted.

“I feel guilty sometimes because I know people struggle with work and are not really happy about it.,” he said. “I love what I do and know I am very blessed.”

As his work became more complicated, Sams carved out a name for himself as someone who could freeze in time the fleeting beauty of a flower in bloom or a bird in flight. His wooden hummingbirds are his most sought-after item. They seem suspended in mid-air, drinking from flowers.

Retirement is not in his plans.This may be delicate, tedious work,  but for Sams, there’s no better way to whittle away the hours.

“I’m very contented just sitting here carving.”

He is one of 120 people who will display their work at the Smithsonian Craft and Design Show in April. He’s been working for months to get ready for that prestigious show and will have about 20 pieces to take to Washington.

His carvings are for purchase and sell for $500 to $3,000. You can see more of his creations on his website or his Facebook page.

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